Rex Harrison wanted Julie Andrews for the role of Eliza, since they had played together in the broadway version. He was concerned that Audrey Hepburn, whose mother was a Dutch baroness, would not be able to play a "guttersnipe" effectively. However, after finishing the film, Harrison had the highest regard for Hepburn's performance, and later referred to her as his favorite leading lady of them all. (It should also be mentioned that Harrison was appalled by Andrews during initial rehearsals for the original broadway production of "My Fair Lady". Andrews was having a lot of trouble with the characterisation of Eliza Doolittle, and the Cockney accent. So much so, that Harrison was once quoted as saying: 'If that girl is here on Monday giving the same goddamn performance, I am out of this show!')
Because of the way Rex Harrison talked his way through the musical numbers, they were unable to prerecord them and have him lip-sync, so a wireless microphone (one of the first ever developed) was rigged up and hidden under his tie. However, this meant that his mouth and words were completely in sync and everyone else's looked off, since they were lip-syncing (when everyone is lip-syncing, it's not that noticeable). The studio thought that this was too obvious so they altered Harrison's soundtrack, lengthening and shortening notes in various places so that his synchronicity is slightly off like all the other actors.
According to actress Nancy Olson, who was married to lyricist Alan Jay Lerner at the time he was writing the musical, Lerner and Frederick Loewe had the most trouble writing the final song for Henry Higgins. The two writers had based the whole concept of the musical around the notion that Higgins was far too intellectual a character to emotionally sing outright, but should speak his songs on pitch, more as an expression of ideas. However, both composer and lyricist knew that Higgins would need a love song towards the end of the story when Eliza has abandoned him. This presented an obvious problem: how to write an emotional song for an emotionless character. Lerner suffered bouts of insomnia trying to write the lyrics. One night, Olson claims, she brought him a cup of tea to soothe his nerves. As she entered his study, Lerner thanked her and said "I guess I've grown accustomed to you...I've grown accustomed to your face." According to Olson, his eyes suddenly lit up, and she sat down and watched him write the entire song in one sitting, based on the idea that although Higgins couldn't "love" Eliza in the traditional sense, he would surely notice the value she represented as part of his life.
Audrey Hepburn announced the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy to the devastated cast and crew immediately after filming the number "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" on the Covent Garden set on 22 November 1963.
In the scene where Eliza is practicing her "H's", she sits down in front of a spinning mirror attached to a flame. Every time she says her "H's" correctly, the flame jumps. If you look closely at the paper she is holding in her hand when it catches fire, you will see handwritten upon it the dialog that she and Professor Higgins have been saying previous to this. "Of course, you can't expect her to get it right the first time," is the first line written on the paper.
Despite extensive vocal training after landing the part of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964), Rex Harrison was unable to sing a note. In the end the director gave up and told him to quasi-speak the whole thing as he had done in the stage version.
Most of Audrey Hepburn's singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon, despite Hepburn's lengthy vocal preparation for the role. A dubber was required because Eliza Doolittle's songs were not transposed down to accommodate Audrey Hepburn's "low-mezzo voice" (as Marni Nixon referred to it), the way Guenevere's songs were transposed down to accommodate Vanessa Redgrave's limited vocal range in 'Camelot (1967)'. Audrey Hepburn sang most of "Just You Wait", as well as the reprise to the song, herself, showcasing her ability to sing perfectly at ease when the songs were set in a reasonable tessitura. Audrey also sang one or two lines, elsewhere in the score, such as 'Sleep, sleep, I couldn't sleep tonight!' in "I Could Have Danced All Night". Thus, the claim that Marni Nixon dubbed all of Audrey Hepburn's singing (as asserted by such people as syndicated columnist Hedda Hopper), is false.
Jeremy Brett, who celebrated his 30th birthday during filming, was very surprised to learn that all of his singing was to be dubbed by a 43-year-old American named Bill Shirley, especially since his own singing voice at that time was remarkably good.
Jack L. Warner originally didn't want Rex Harrison to reprise his stage role as Higgins for the film version, since he had seen Cleopatra (1963) and thought the actor looked too old to be believable as Audrey Hepburn's love interest. Peter O'Toole was considered for the role of Professor Higgins, but his salary demands were too high. Harrison responded in a letter to Warner that he had only looked old as Gaio Giulio Cesare because he had been playing an epileptic at the end of his life, and after sending some publicity photographs of himself - minus his toupee - he was eventually cast.
Jack L. Warner paid $5.5 million for the film rights in February 1962. This would set a record for the amount of money paid for the film rights to any intellectual property, broken only in 1978 when Columbia paid $9.5 million for the film rights to Annie (1982)
Julie Andrews was the first choice for the role of Eliza Doolittle, but Warner Brothers, which had paid $5 million for the rights to the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, didn't want to risk a stage actress in the central role of a $17-million film, despite lobbying from Lerner himself. However, this reason has been strongly doubted by those who believe audiences would have flocked to see the film regardless of who played the leading role. It is also reported that Jack L. Warner didn't think Andrews would be photogenic enough. He invited her to do a screen test, but she refused, so he forgot about her altogether.
Although her singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon, Audrey Hepburn's singing does actually appear in the form of the first verse of "Just You Wait, Henry Higgins". However, when the song heads into the soprano range (76 seconds in), Nixon takes over vocals. Hepburn sings the last 30 seconds of the song as well as the brief reprise. She also sings the sing-talking parts for "The Rain in Spain". Overall, as Hepburn reportedly said, about 90% of her singing was dubbed. That was far more than what she expected, as she was initially promised that most of her vocals would be used. According to Nixon, Hepburn was upset that she could not play the role vocally, and always blamed herself for that.
"My Fair Lady" is the only Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe stage musical to have been filmed totally complete, with no omission of any songs from the stage version (or dialogue, for that matter). There are even some added lyrics to the song "You Did It", in which Higgins goes more into detail about the speech "expert" Zoltan Karpathy's evaluation of Eliza at the ball, that were not in the stage version. My Fair Lady (1964), West Side Story (1961), and South Pacific (1958) may be the most complete film adaptations of broadway musicals ever made.
Musical theater writers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had attempted to adapt George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" as a musical long before Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, but had abandoned the project as unadaptable. Rodgers and Hammerstein felt that Shaw's style of writing intellectual dialog and the emotionless character of Henry Higgins did not lend themselves to a musical. Lerner and Lowe overcame these problems by leaving Shaw's dialogue largely intact, and working under the notion that Higgins must be played by a great actor, not a great singer. Thus, they wrote the role especially for Rex Harrison, and adopted the idea that Higgins should not sing outright, but talk on pitch, less an expression of emotions than ideas.
According to one of Rex Harrison's biographers, Alexander Walker, the song "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" held special memories for the actor, as during the original broadway run he used to sing the song to his third wife Kay Kendall, who would stand in the wings watching his performance. Harrison later admitted that when he sang the song in the film he was thinking all the time about Kendall, who had died a few years before from leukemia.
During the parts of "Wouldn't It be Loverly" featuring Audrey Hepburn's own singing voice, her lip-syncing does not match her own singing as well as it does Marni Nixon's singing, even though Hepburn filmed the scene with her own track. This shouldn't be surprising considering that Marni Nixon "looped" her vocals to the song after the number was already filmed - and was given multiple attempts to match Audrey Hepburn's lip movements precisely (as was the case when she dubbed Natalie Wood in 'West Side Story (1961)' ). Marni Nixon discusses this in her autobiography, where she actually praises Audrey Hepburn for lip-synching very well to her own track. Also, according to the DVD commentary, instead of using the vocal track that was used during filming, a new vocal track had to be created for use on the "Audrey dub".
The role of Eliza Doolittle was originally played on broadway by Julie Andrews. However, she was denied the role because the film's producers didn't think she was "known" enough as a film actress. Many felt that this snub as well as Audrey Hepburn's singing being dubbed led to Hepburn's not being nominated for the Best Actress Oscar nomination.
When Eliza Dolittle demands to see what Henry Higgins has been writing about her, in the beginning of the film, he shows her his notebook, which she cannot read. The notation in the notebook is "Visible Speech", a phonetic notation invented by Alexander Melville Bell (father of Alexander Graham Bell) and extended and used heavily by Henry Sweet, a real-life phonetician and apparently the basis of the Henry Higgins character.
The 1994 restoration by Robert A. Harris used a variety of methods to return the film to its original condition. The opening credits were digitally re-created using pieces of surviving frames. A few shots were digitally restored by scanning the 65mm negative or separation masters and output back to VistaVision (and enlarged back to 65mm). Some shots were simply re-composited via separation masters. Despite this, most of the film was able to be restored directly from the camera negative. For the sound, only the six-track magnetic print master (used to add sound to 70mm prints) survived. This was digitally restored and used to create a new six-track mix (faithful to the original version), as well as new Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes for modern sound systems.
In the scene where Henry Higgins knocks a record player that is playing a recording of vowel sounds, the voice on the record is that of Dr. Peter Ladefoged, a linguist who worked as a consultant on the film.
The play had first been staged on broadway in March 1956, and opened in London in 1958. A clause in the contract stated that the film version could not be made until the play had finished in September 1962.
The original broadway production of "My Fair Lady" opened at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York on March 15, 1956, and ran for 2717 performances, which was, at the time, the longest run a broadway show had ever had. In February 2013, the original production is still the twentieth-longest-running production in broadway history. Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway recreated their roles in the movie. Harrison won the 1957 Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical and Hollaway was nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. The show won the 1957 Tony award (New York City) for the Best Musical.
U.S. television viewers had something of a Rex Harrison film-fest on Thanksgiving Week, 1973. Doctor Dolittle (1967) aired on Thanksgiving Eve on ABC-TV, followed by My Fair Lady (1964) on NBC-TV on Thanksgiving Day. This was the U.S. commercial TV premiere of both films, and was probably not a coincidence.
Rex Harrison was very disappointed when Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza, since he felt she was badly miscast and he had hoped to work with Julie Andrews. He told an interviewer, "Eliza Doolittle is supposed to be ill at ease in European ballrooms. Bloody Audrey has never spent a day in her life out of European ballrooms." Nevertheless, Harrison was once later asked to identify his favorite leading lady. Without hesitation, he replied, "Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964)."
Audrey Hepburn later admitted she would never have accepted the role of Eliza Dolittle if she had known that producer Jack L. Warner intended to have nearly all of her singing dubbed. After making "My Fair Lady", Audrey Hepburn resolved not to appear in another film musical unless she could do the singing on her own.
While the movie received generally favorable reviews, critics were divided on Audrey Hepburn's performance as Eliza. While some were critical of the fact that she was dubbed, others such as esteemed British dramatist Sir 'John Gielgud' went on record as saying that Audrey Hepburn was "better than Julie Andrews!" in the role.
Although Rex Harrison was desperate to be cast as Professor Higgins, he refused to do a screen test since he felt this was beneath his dignity. He did, however, promise to Jack L. Warner that he would not simply repeat his stage performance, but would instead adapt his performance accordingly for the film.
Robert Coote was nominated for the 1962 Tony award (New York City) for Supporting or Features Actor in a Musical for "My Fair Lady" for his role as Colonel Pickering and recreated that role in the 1976 broadway revival.
Stanley Holloway was nominated for the 1957 Tony award (New York City) for Supporting or Features Actor in a Musical for "My Fair Lady" for the role of Alfred P. Doolittle and recreated the role in the movie version.
Audrey Hepburn apparently believed that Julie Andrews should have played Eliza Doolittle in the film, but was told by Jack L. Warner that Julie wouldn't be cast even if Audrey turned the role down. Julie Andrews said that she "threw a few tantrums" when she learned that she wouldn't be playing Eliza in the film, and yet, she got along very well with Audrey Hepburn, without holding a grudge against Audrey whom she knew was an innocent party in the whole thing.
The original broadway production of "Pygmalion" on which "My Fair Lady" was based opened at the Park Theater opening October 12, 1914, ran for 72 performances and was revived in 1927, 1938, 1945, 1987 and 2007. The play premiered in a German translation at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913 and in English at His Majesty's Theatre in London on April 11, 1914 and starred Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Julie Andrews got her revenge on Jack L. Warner three years later when she wasn't cast as Guinevere in the film version of Camelot (1967), a part which she had made her own on broadway. Her Great White Way co-stars Richard Burton and Robert Goulet were also not cast in the film, which went on to flop so badly for Warner Brothers that the company ousted Jack L. Warner as their president.
For the 30th anniversary re-release in 1994, the film was painstakingly restored by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz - the same team that restored Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Spartacus (1960) and Vertigo (1958). The restoration was called for because Warner Brothers only owned the rights to their film for a certain period of time before the rights reverted to CBS. Who discarded most of the basic materials. The digital restoration of the film - saving it from extinction - took 6 months and cost $600,000.
Although most of the art direction and costume designing credit went to Cecil Beaton, art director Gene Allen would later go on record to say that Beaton only designed the women's clothes and had no part in the actual designs of the sets, though he insisted on taking the credit for them. In fact, Beaton had it written into his contract that he receive sole credit for production designer.
George Cukor and Cecil Beaton - who were good friends beforehand - had a big falling out during the production. This is generally thought to be down to Beaton taking too much time photographing Audrey Hepburn when Cukor wanted her for rehearsals or filming. These were in fact the only times that Beaton - credited as the film's production designer - ever showed up on set.
When Audrey Hepburn was first informed that her voice wasn't strong enough and that she would have to be dubbed, she walked out. She returned the next day and - in a typically graceful Hepburn gesture - apologized to everybody for her "wicked behavior".
Most roadshow film presentations made at that time had an overture recorded especially for the film, meant to be heard while the lights in the theater were still up and the movie screen curtains were still closed. Then, at the end of the overture, the lights would go down and the film would start with what was known as its Main Title music. The overture to the stage version of "My Fair Lady" was longer than the film's opening credits, but Lerner and Loewe apparently still wanted to use it. So, rather than using the typical roadshow format of Overture and Main Title music to get around this, the filmmakers shot the film so that half of the Overture is heard against shots of flowers appearing on the screen; then halfway through the Overture, the lights go down and the opening credits begin.
During the film companies lunch breaks, Cecil Beaton would sneak onto the current sound stage set being filmed, set up an easel and board, sketching the standing set (scenery), adding color with time permitting, or adding watercolor washes and painting details in his studio lot office. Both Jack Warner and George Cukor had Beaton banned from the daily filming stage; as well, any Warner Stage that set construction, painting, set green and set decorating was in progress. After the film was finished, Beaton had an exhibition with his costume sketches, including these set illustrations, providing some evidence that he had designed the scenery, as well. In fact, Jack Warner had originally signed a contract with Cecil Beaton granting Beaton costume and art direction screen credits. The original New York, London, Chicago, and road show tour-stage scenery had been designed by Oliver Smith. George Cukor and Gene Allen (as Production Designer and Second Unit Director) had teamed on the Judy Garland and James Mason (1954) film musical "A Star is Born". Cukor insisted Gene would design all the "My Fair Lady" sets when he accepted the directorial assignment. In fact, Beaton was never allowed in nor near the film's art department.
Despite intensive vocal training during pre-production, and constant practicing until her final re-recording during the post-production, most of Audrey Hepburn's own singing was omitted from the finished product. The only significant song in which Audrey's own vocals were largely retained is "Just You Wait", where her voice can be heard in two thirds of the number. Audrey also rendered the brief "Just You Wait" reprise all on her own, nailing the dramatic, emotional intensity of the song in a way that Marni Nixon would never have been able to. Audrey Hepburn also did the opening to some of the songs on her own, including the lines 'Bed, bed, I couldn't go to bed!' and 'Sleep, sleep, I couldn't sleep tonight!' in the introductory verse of "I Could Have Danced All Night".
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
George Bernard Shaw adamantly opposed any notion that Higgins and Eliza had fallen in love and would marry at the end of the play, as he felt it would betray the character of Eliza who, as in the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, would "come to life" and emancipate herself from the male domination of Higgins and her father. He even went so far as to include a lengthy essay to be published with copies of the script explaining precisely why Higgins and Eliza would never marry, and what "actually happened" after the curtain fell: Eliza married Freddy and opened a flower shop with funds from Colonel Pickering. Moreover, as Shaw biographers have noted, Higgins is meant to be an analogue of the playwright himself, thus suggesting Higgins was actually a homosexual. Under heavy pressure from producers, for the 1938 film version of "Pygmalion", Shaw wrote a compromise ending, in which Eliza and Higgins reconcile, but Eliza still leaves to marry Freddy. This was later changed without Shaw's knowledge or permission to a conclusion in which Eliza returns to Higgins and supposedly marries him; it is that ending that is used in "My Fair Lady."